I'm trying to understand the process of going from initial gesture sketches to a completed drawing. Most of the instruction I've seen talks about the gesture phase and the late detail phase but very little about moving between the two. The best example I've seen so far is in How to Draw the Marvel Way, but that just hand waves a bit with a few paragraphs about adding detail directly to the initial sketch and four pictures going from a sketch to final form.

Most of the other discussion I've seen about gesture drawing speaks to it basically being warm up/capture only and that it should be treated as a throw away piece after the "real" drawing is well underway. I realize that workflows are unique to each person but it seems like there should be general guidelines on efficient workflows for the middle stages.

I'm currently working with pencil/paper, but I can see myself going digital, as I imagine the workflows being much easier when you can layer your drawing out and stage it that way.

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    Hi there and welcome to GD - nice question, I might get back to you with some good hints, but most of all: never ever give up paper and pencil.
    – benteh
    Jun 16, 2014 at 17:16
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    You may be over-thinking things. From gesture, you simply tighten up and refine repeatedly until you get solid forms, then add details.
    – Scott
    Jun 16, 2014 at 17:33
  • Maybe, although the initial sketching phase still creates a lot of noise that will need to be removed. Erasing does a fair amount of damage to the paper, so eventually the drawing will need to be put on the final paper for whatever detail treatment I intend. I guess a light box maybe the best solution to the way I see things working, but I'm not sure.
    – tsgrasser
    Jun 16, 2014 at 17:59
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    'digital layers' pre-digital was called 'tracing paper'. :) I'd suggest that.
    – DA01
    Jun 16, 2014 at 18:48

1 Answer 1


Although you are looking for how to approach the middle stage of the drawing your problem may be in the beginning, based on your comment:

"erasing does a fair amount of damage to the paper"

I would suggest beginning with a light graphite pencil like 6H for beginning the drawing. As you become closer to achieving your desired look move to a higher grade pencil e.g. HB or 2B. In the beginning of a drawing focusing on the shape of the figure and resolving the contour lines should be your first step. While you're doing this keep your proportions in mind so you won't have to make any big changes later to the overall composition.

Once you have a rough line drawing down, consider where your light source(s) will be coming from and begin with some very light shading to give the form some depth. It is important that you build up your shading slowly and not to get too dark too fast. If you are ever unsure about making a big change just grab some tracing paper and lay it over the drawing and try it on there first to see how it looks.

At this point it is a matter of adding little bits of detail and working your way around to different parts of the drawing, and not focusing on one part too long. You want to bring the drawing together as a whole and not get bring one small part too far ahead of the rest in case you later decide to change something.

The next step would be the final part of the drawing: making it digital, moving to pen & ink, or adding color. A couple other bits of advice that have helped me with illustrations is taking a break from your work and coming back to it, in order to see it with fresh eyes. Another option is showing your drawing to someone else to get their advice on it, this doesn't have to necessarily be an illustrator, and in fact sometimes it is better to have a non-art person look at it to keep you in check.

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